Category Archives: Life On The Ranch

Winter At Medicine Spirit Ranch

The work changes with the seasons at Medicine Spirit Ranch. In many ways winter is the busiest time of year because we must keep the animals supplied with hay and supplemental protein.

Also we carry out tasks more suited for winter months. For example, the small evergreen juniper saplings, referred to locally as “cedar”, visually contrast better in winter from the tall brown grass. This makes it easier to find the cedar in winter and to apply a set of loppers to the task. The cedar is most unwelcome on ranches, because it demands huge amounts of water and competes with the various grasses needed for our grazing animals.

Also we repair fences during the winter. The fences become stretched from cows leaning over them and deer jumping through them. Also feral hogs have made their unwelcome appearance and will likely create still more fencing problems. Ugh!

We horses need our protein pellets every day. Now don’t be late!

We work on equipment during the winter that typically is in heavy use during the warmer parts of the year. We cut dead trees and clear drainage pipes under ranch roads. The daily cattle feeding is greater during the winter than during the remainder of the year as we keep them supplied with hay in the form of giant (900 pound) bales. We also feed the cattle range cubes on a daily basis to supplement their protein needs.

The horses on the other hand receove their protein containing feed every day year round whereas the cattle don’t during the non-winter months. Given the excitement and jousting for the range cubes by the cattle, we refer to it as “cow candy.”

So why do the horses get supplemental feed every day of the year and we don’t?

This past week we’ve been repairing a well in one of our pastures. This job proved arduous, as we had to dig up a 45-gallon container that was buried in the ground. The container stores water and moves it to a nearby water trough. We found a leek at the connection that fed into the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately after replacing the pump motor, replacing the water container and some  PVC connections,  and then reburying the tank, we sprung yet another leak. It seems the large water container sank deeper into the hole, re-breaking the PVC pipe. A second attempt at this fix hopefully has addressed the problem. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Curious how the cattle stood around the developing pond resulting from the leak and gawked at our inability to fix their water trough. I am pretty sure Number 36, a.k.a. “the Tongue” was chuckling. Cheeky cow! She is my nemesis.

We continue to vaccinate calves for black leg (a bacterial infection) and periodically take a load of yearlings to market. Six calves have been born within the last week or so. They are so cute at this age. See their pics below.

We never seem run out of tasks on the ranch despite the season. Nevertheless, I can hardly wait for Spring to arrive.

Auslander Ranchers

I received the lovely photograph (see below) from a friend and amateur photographer, Jim Harris. In truth the picture was taken of a woman in chaps from New Mexico, but it fits well our local situation. Many folks moving into the Texas Hill Country bring with them their lifestyles and fashions.

Branding In Style

The photograph depicts this aspect nicely. You can notice the clean red ostrich boots on this well-dressed lady rancher. If you look closely, you will notice a diamond bracelet on her wrist. She is, nevertheless, wielding the branding iron with an air of competence and determination. Her dress is not the usual dress of our locals who typically wear worn out jeans, muddy work boots, pearl button shirts, and beat up cowboy hats.

Gillespie County, the county in which Fredericksburg is located, continues to have agriculture as its number one industry. Admittedly, this distinction has been helped of late by the 100 or so wineries and vineyards that have flocked to our area. Gillespie county ranchers continue to raise many cattle, goats, and sheep.

Being a newly minted rancher back in 2001, I felt the probing and suspicious eyes of my fellow ranchers when I attended Field Days or other agricultural events. I was, after all, a newbie and likely seen as an Auslander with questionable intent. I certainly lacked ranching experience. In any event after eighteen years, Trudy and I feel better integrated and believe we do a reasonable job ranching cattle. Nevertheless, this picture reminds me of the social divide and suspicion we felt in those early days after moving in at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Have you ever experienced similar cultural divides? Would love to hear from you.

Morning Symphony

Trudy and I continue to “camp out” in our guesthouse while our home undergoes renovation and restoration. Because of a flood, our wooden floors required replacing and we had to move out for three weeks. While we were at it, we decided to do a bit of updating as well. Fortunately we had a guesthouse to move into rather than having to move to a motel (a dog friendly one, of course). We plan on moving back to our usual house in just a few days. Hoorah!

While we have felt frustration over our inability to access certain items, my morning routine has remained unchanged. It begins with a canine symphony, or should I call it a canine cacophony?

You see, after I shower and begin to dress for the day, my two Border collies, Bandit and Bella, begin barking like crazed dogs. They become so excited by the prospect of going out onto the ranch. They are not at all patient


“Two-footed humans sure move slowly!”

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Jack, our little brown dog, appears nonplussed by the whole matter. If anything Jack places himself between the Borders and me, attempting to prevent the overly excited collies from jumping up  while I totter about on one leg, putting on my jeans.

I am a good dog in the morning, not like those noisy Border collies.”

I’ve found that the barking of the Border collies cannot be suppressed. I try repeatedly to shush them verbally, but to no avail. I even resort to gently squeezing their jaws together. Nothing works. Bella, bless her little canine heart, has even taken to nipping at my legs (very disconcerting for me), if I don’t move along at her desired pace. She clearly herds me in the direction of the pickup and becomes visibly frustrated if I need to double back.

Unfortunately, even on reaching the pickup, the morning symphony of dog barking doesn’t stop. My good neighbor and friend, Tom Norris, says he can always tell where I am on the ranch because of the dogs’ barking. You see, sounds carries very well in Live Oak Valley.

I suppose my dogs’ barking is a new form of G.P.S., i.e. godawful pet sounds! Or maybe it should be C.P.S, Canine Positioning System. Eventually the dogs stop barking, although I suspect it may be because of doggie hoarseness.

My frequency of blog posting (and FB posting) has slowed lately. This absence results from the time I’ve  devoted to writing another book. I am entering the final phases of finishing my next book (well prior to sending it off to potential agents and publishers and the lengthy process that is sure to follow). My book is tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription for Defeat.

The book seeks to answer the “Holy Grail” of questions about Hitler- that is, what was it that affected his reasoning to the extent that he made such colossal blunders in judgement toward the end of World War II. The premise of my book is that Hitler’s failing health and abnormal personality largely explain his errors in judgment and aided the Allies in achieving victory. The book goes into Hitler’s major and minor illnesses along with describing his unusual personality characteristics and how these aspects worked against him. His health is spliced into a number of the major battles of World War II. Wish me luck!

I have  received feedback from my beta readers on Hitler: Prescription For Defeat and have made the necessary edits. I feel so grateful for the time and expertise of Janet, LaNelle, Tom, and Madeline for carrying out this helpful task. Thank you. Extra sets of eyes prove very useful!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read my first book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick it up at your favorite bookstore or order a copy. The book has won awards, and received generous comments from Amazon readers. These reviews on Amazon are extremely welcome and encouraging.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My absolute favorite feedback about Carrying The Black Bag came in the form of a picture from a family member who was at the time training as a Pediatric surgical nurse.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

The days at Medicine Spirit Ranch are lengthening and warming, and it won’t be long until Central Texas looks like the picture below. Spring with the wildflowers is hard to beat!

Bluebonnets and Paints

The Lunar Eclipse and Blood Moon

Like many of you, Trudy and I recently stayed up late to witness the lunar eclipse and “Blood Moon.” Received spectacular pictures of this from Bruce Frels, brother to good friend and retired Dentist, Buddy Frels. Bruce is a professional photographer and captured these images. This is what the night sky looked like over Medicine Spirit Ranch.
Hope the quality shows up for these really amazing photos. Here goes!

 

I hope this provides you with the same sense of awe I experienced. One advantage of living out in the country is very little light pollution. It makes witnessing such scenes as this really speccial. Hope you enjoy the sight.

Great Blue Herons Are Adaptable

I’ve written about Great Blue Herons in this blog previously and have been especially impressed with their legends and natural beauty. Pleasingly our ranch has again been graced by several Great Blue Herons that create in me a sense of awe both by their size and striking beauty.

Each morning I’ve spotted  a Great Blue Heron in the top of a tall tree on the other side of our stock tank, watching me. My procedure has been to throw out feed for the duck and  fish. I always throw some feed near the shore to attract fish for the heron that I know will soon arrive. The feed  attracts fish and the Great Blue Heron arrives as soon as my back is turned. I’ve written of this previously in a blog post “Chumming for Heron”.

A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative

The heron’s technique in the past has been to make himself small by curling itself up, hiding in the weeds, and at the right instance, launching itself at an unsuspecting  fish. Lately the fish seem to have caught onto the heron’s fishing ways and avoid swimming close to the bank of the pond. Nevertheless, many fish surface for the food just out of the heron’s reach.

Successful fishing. This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

I’ve witnessed the heron missing meals of late due to this adaptability by the fish. To my surprise and in response to the change in fish behavior, I’ve also noticed a change in the heron’s fishing tactics. The heron  has begun landing on the surface of the water and swimming around like a duck. Upon spotting a fish in the shallow water, the heron suddenly turns tail to heaven. Soon it surfaces with a fish in its beak.

Also I’ve witnessed a second change of tactics. The heron flies across the tank at low altitude obviously searching for fish and then suddenly plunges into the water head first. The heron submerges itself, but sure enough on regaining the surface it has a fish in its beak. It then swims to the bank where it  enjoys its breakfast.

Such adaptability in herons as well as fish, I find interesting and surprising. I assume  in the game of life for herons and fish, adaptability benefits both just as adaptability has great value for us humans.

I trust the heron will enjoy a nice meal for Thanksgiving, as I hope readers of this blog will as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

How Green The Valley

When the drought ended a few weeks back, it ended on a convincing note- over 10 inches of rain. What a difference rain makes. Despite the obviousness of this statement, I find myself in a state of wonder and awe when seeing our new crop of wild flowers, deep green grass, and flowering bushes around the ranch and yard. Thought I would share a few pictures.

Wildflowers against a background of green pasture

Copper Canyon daisies have popped up all over

Lantana has been going crazy both in the yard and all over the ranch

The flowers in our Texas plantar (who says I’m a proud Texan?) have begun to flower once again

Little Jack: Flowers are okay I guess, but nothing tops a good scratch

Speaking of inspiration, yesterday I sneaked off to the driving range and hit golf balls. There I ran across a man in his forties who was also smacking balls. The difference was that he had a congenitally deformed foot that allowed him only to balance on the toe of his left foot. Despite this handicap, he was out battling the golf gods and giving no quarter to his handicap. Now this was inspirational!

I hope everyone takes a few moments and looks around for the little things in their lives that provide inspiration, awe, and hope. It is there if we just look.

 

Puppy Love- Part IV and Conclusion of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding episode of Little Jack’s backstory. He clearly has enjoyed dictating his story, and I have enjoyed writing it down. I have learned Jack is an amazing little brown dog with a far more interesting and heroic background than i had suspected. He and I hope you have enjoyed his story. Jack has certainly enjoyed his fan mail.

 

Little Jack dictating his story

 

I knew I couldn’t survive much longer on my own. By then I had learned the pitfalls of being a lone dog on the road. Eating whatever I managed to catch had proven too infrequent to sustain myself. Moreover dodging guard llamas and donkeys, avoiding fierce horses, evading cars and trucks, and barely escaping the clutches a mountain lion had taken their toll on my freedom-loving doggie spirit. I was ready to exchange a few biscuits of freedom for a bowlful of security.

The following afternoon I trotted along the country road until it passed through a ranch entrance. There the road became an even smaller byway.

A sign at the ranch entrance

I then traveled up a steep hill. With the climb my paw pads became progressively sorer and my belly increasingly empty. When I lifted my nose from the ground, I saw a white stone house perched high upon the hill. It became a distant visual target that encouraged my flagging hopes. I knew exhaustion would soon overcome me if I couldn’t find rest and food. What did I have to lose by proceeding up the hill to its summit? Might this signal what I had been searching for my whole life?

Shortly after arriving in the front yard of the house, I heard a noisy, old pickup grinding its way up the hill. Fear welled up within me, as I had suffered close calls from such vehicles. I tried to hide, but could find no good place to do so.

Soon out of the truck stepped a clean-shaven man who was quickly followed by two large dark and white dogs. The dogs that later I learned were Border collies sensed my presence almost immediately. When the collies ran my way, I retreated, but the two dogs were bigger and faster than I was. The collies quickly trapped me inside the fenced yard. I turned on them, crouched, growled, and prepared to make my stand. While trying to appear aggressive, I knew my energy level and my physical state were depleted. I doubted I could protect myself for long from these larger well-fed, highly energetic dogs.

This is the pickup that came up the hill. Now I get to ride in it rather than have to walk everywhere

I hunkered down, my teeth bared, expecting a vicious attack at any moment. Then to my surprise the man called off his dogs and they stood down. The man then tried to catch me, but even in my depleted state, I was far too quick for him. You see two-footed, overweight humans move pretty slowly. This was my first time I saw Pickup Man. I didn’t know his intentions, and he frightened me, because by then I was afraid of just about everything and everyone.

Pickup Man with his Border collies and me

The man who by then was out of breath headed for the stone house and left me alone in the yard with his dogs. The Border collies fortunately kept their distance from me. Not long after going into the white house, Pickup Man came back carrying a piece of fried chicken. Oh, it smelled so good. In the face of the luscious smelling meat, my fears simply melted away. My thoughts of evasion collapsed before that tantalizing smell and luscious looking meat. I climbed straight up into his arms to eat the meat. I wolfed down the tasty chicken, as Pickup Man held me and carried me toward the white stone house. He stroked my head as he walked and said soft words.

Once inside the house he called out to his human companion. That’s when I first met Nice Lady. She came into the room and looked surprised at what Pickup Man was carrying. She approached us and gently took me from his arms. She caressed my head, scratched my ears, and said kind, soft words to me. She told Pickup Man how skinny, dirty, and, exhausted I appeared.

Nice Lady standing beside a Hay bale

The rest you might say is doggie history. Nice Lady proceeded to give me a soapy, warm bath in a large bathtub. She fixed a place for me to sleep next to her bed. She fed me regularly and liberally.

Nice Lady even feeds me with me sitting in her lap

Oh, and the food came from cans, a seemingly bottomless giant plastic bin of dry dog food, and even her dinner table. It all smelled and tasted so good to this half-starved dog. It took me several weeks to get used to all that food, as my system wasn’t used to eating much or very often. I eventually became used to eating more frequently and the food proved so much better than the meals I had eaten while on the road.

Here I am all cleaned up but looking pretty skinny

Nice Lady stroked me often and nursed me back to full health. I gained weight and my energy gradually returned. I knew I had found a promising new home with caring humans along with an accepting pack of dogs. And to make matters even better Pickup Man regularly took me for rides around his ranch in the backseat of his pickup. The Border collies he relegated to the bed of his pickup. Riding in a pickup was ever so much easier on my paw pads than walking.

Here I am with Pickup Man inside his truck

Well this is the end of my story prior to coming to live with Pickup Man and Nice Lady. It isn’t heroic like the stories of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, both legends in the canine world. Nor am I as well known, as a dog that lived up the highway in Mason, Texas, a dog whose name was Old Yeller. But it’s my story and I’m proud of it.

My adventures in the big stinky city and my exploits on the road made me, for better or worse, what I am today. For sure I learned resiliency.

I wanted Pickup Man to write down my story to fill in my background for Nice Lady and him. This is the best I can recall.

Later when talking to friends, I overheard Pickup Man and Nice Lady talk about naming me Little Jack Kerouac. They said something about a book written by a man named Jack Kerouac that described his time on the road. Pickup Man and Nice Lady thought there must be similarities between his story and mine. Kerouac had described his experience, as the road is life. Well I also had traveled a road of my life to this new and happier place, and perhaps like Jack Kerouac, I had grown from and been molded by my life experiences.

I am now a wiser dog but also a pampered one

The friends of Pickup Man and Nice Lady all laughed at hearing why my name had been chosen and seemed to enjoy it much like I might enjoy a good steak bone. So that’s how I gained my new name, and I hope it makes better sense to you than it does to me. Humans can act pretty mystifying at times. But I am happy now with my name, Little Jack, and have learned to respond to it.

Now I’ll leave the rest of the story to Pickup Man, that is, if he chooses to write it down. I don’t know if he will, as he spends a lot of time sitting at his desk, clicking away on his keyboard. Sometimes he says he is moving his mouse around and on one occasion even claimed his mouse had died. Sometimes humans say the silliest things, because I know what a mouse is and even caught and ate several while on the road. I don’t know what makes Pickup Man say such crazy things, but I care for him anyway, even if a little daffy.. I think overall he is a good pack leader.

Frankly I’d just as soon Pickup Man get up from behind his computer and take me riding in his pickup, or else go for a walk across our ranch. I wouldn’t even mind if he takes along those herding obsessed Border collies of his. After all they long ago gave up trying to herd me. You see, I ‘m not the biggest dog around, but I carry a big bite.

I have gotten used to the Border collies and to respect their bravery

I’ve actually learned to respect those Border collies for their skill at herding cattle and for their bravery in the face of some really big animals. They aren’t varmint hunters like me, yet I have gained a grudging respect for their remarkable abilities. Admittedly, I have also grown to care for them, look out for them, and enjoy being part of the same pack.

What makes my life even better is knowledge that a full dinner bowl always awaits me at the house. Despite knowing this I still keep my nose to the ground, and seek out armadillos and possums. If I catch an armadillo or possum, I don’t even bother to eat it anymore, as I know better fare awaits me- dirty nose and all- at my white stone home on the hill.

As I write this I am almost nine years old, that is 63 in dog years. Wow, I am getting old. In the process I’ve learned a few things that I wish to share. Chief among my observations is gaining a strong sense of place. While early in life, I wished to explore the entire world, now I know that to be impractical. I now recognize my special place, my correct place in the world, is right here in Live Oak Valley living in a house on a hill.

I can explore the valley, splash in my favorite spring-fed creeks, relish my varmint chases, quietly observe graceful deer without feeling the need to chase them, and most importantly revel in a sense of belonging to one special place. I love my dog/human pack and my pack loves me. As I’ve grown older, being loved and loving others have become more important matters to me. I think perhaps that is what life is all about. This valley, this ranch, these dogs, and these people just feel right to me. It feels like I’m home at last.

I hope you have enjoyed my story

Oh, I learned lessons in the big, smelly city and even while lost on the road. My actions taught me self-reliance, survival skills, and provided me with almost limitless self-confidence. But I’ve proved myself and am now an accomplished, grown up dog. I take life a little easier now. You might say I’ve become semi-retired. At last I’ve discovered my real home and more about what makes this dog bark. Isn’t that an important aspect of anyone’s life?

 

The End